How to Avoid Product Recalls Due to Mislabeling

Those aren't watermelons!.

Anyone who imports always has to deal with labeling concerns. It starts with sourcing a product you like and know will sell. Then consulting an international attorney to protect the product name and other intellectual property rights. Then the last step, checking on labeling, has the tendency to get glossed over due to time constraints and a “let’s get on with it” mentality. Besides, your supplier says you don’t need any special labeling on the product you are importing and he’s fully aware of where it will be sold.

Oh, really? Let’s take a look.

When it comes to imports, mislabeling is a huge issue. And I am not talking about a simple label in English that sells well in the United States. I am talking about that same label and attempting to sell the product in Japan as is. What can trip you up is not necessarily just the wrong language on the label but the failure to list ingredients on packaging that are prohibited for entry into a country. Some manufacturers find this out later and feel it’s not their fault because the mistake may have been caused by a change in a third-party supplier that was out of their control. But guess what? It is the responsibility of the manufacturer. Every time a new batch of products is made by a contract supplier for a manufacturer, the company must ask for a fresh certified true and correct bill of materials to ensure that what a supplier states is in a product, is in the product.

For example, if a manufacturer claims it uses pure olive oil in a product and states it on a label only to learn later that its supplier switched to palm oil without telling the company, that’s a huge problem and can cause a major recall later on for a manufacturer, especially to people allergic to palm oil.


Take a look at “Products Recalled Due to Mislabeling” ( to get an idea of the many ways in which mislabeling can backfire on you.

Case in point: Kozy Shack Enterprises had to recall products due to mislabeling. In this instance, 4-ounce cups of Foodservice Kozy Shack Simply Well Chocolate Pudding contained milk, but the ingredient list didn't include milk.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, “Labeling mistakes are the biggest cause for food recalls, with the administration sometimes listing two or three recalls a day. Much of this is due to overseas distributors, as there aren't specific rules in place for monitoring labels that are imported from overseas,” (Source:

Beyond ingredient missteps on a food product, an importer should also follow these guidelines to avoid other mislabeling mistakes:

1.  Consult with your customer or supplier to determine what is legal and what is not relative to labeling laws on the type of product you plan to import and sell elsewhere.

2.  Check with federal agencies specific to your product in the country you wish to do business to determine if the product label meets all rules and regulations for commerce. In the United States, for instance, we have the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that protects consumers. When importing a textile product into the United States, check with the FTC to see whether your product’s label lists the fiber content appropriately along with the country of origin and the identify of the manufacturer. In the textile world, they refer to any mislabeling as the “tag snag.” Each time you enter a new market, go through the same process of pre-clearance on your product’s label. In other words, you can’t assume that just because you passed the test to sell your textile products successfully in Ireland that the same label will work in the UK.  

By the way, I recommend you conduct a keyword search on the Internet specifically addressing what you plan to do. For example, if you want to import food products into Ireland, you might use a keyword search, “import food products into Ireland.” The results will show a top ranking site, Food Safety Authority of Ireland:

3.  Use third-party inspection agents to check labels prior to importing a product and have the agent certify that the labels meet your requirements. That calls for not just checking a label, but you might also want the inspection agent to check that the same label is in fact used throughout the entire shipment. You don’t want to import 1,000 cases of a product to learn later on that 850 of the cases have the right label and the other 150 don’t. You might even stipulate in your payment terms that an inspection certificate is required covering specific labeling instructions (attaching a copy of the exact label, for instance) in order pay your supplier.

4.  Use a customs broker to ensure accurate filing of all documentation and lawful and secure movement of goods. Customs brokers and freight forwarders have a stake in the effective enforcement of any nation’s laws, including making sure labeling gets done right. These cargo movers also facilitate communication between all parties involved such as Customs & Border Protection (CBP), ports, truckers, importers, cargo handlers, carriers, and numerous other companies and agencies.  

As you can see, product labeling can be tricky. To avoid mistakes, check and double-check product labeling with several different agencies before you begin the import process because you may not always get what you ask for accurately from your supplier. 

Photo Credit: jasoneppink 

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